U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May today officially invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which marks the formal beginning of the U.K.’s divorce proceedings from the European Union in a hand-delivered letter through her envoy.
In a referendum on June 23, 2016, the British electorate voted to leave or exit (i.e., Brexit) the EU by a vote of 52 percent to 48 percent.
The Conservative Party leader told her colleagues in the House of Commons, the British parliament, that the beginning of the Article 50 process “is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back,” the BBC reported.
British EU ambassador Tim Barrow hand-delivered May’s six-page, Article 50 letter to European Council President Donald Tusk today in Brussels. Complicated negotiations over the split, which will allow the U.K. to regain control over its own laws governing immigration, trade, and many other functions could take up to two years.
Similar to the aftermath of the U.S. election, emotions ran high among those who sought to kept Britain within the EU apparatus. According to CNBC, the Barrow-Tusk meeting was kept secret “for fear of impassioned Remain campaigners possibly attempting to intercept the letter and disrupt the timing of the agreed plan for this historic event.”
“The two sides now have until March 2019 to agree on a divorce settlement and – if possible – establish a new relationship between Britain, the world’s fifth-largest economy, and the EU, a vast single market stretching over 27 countries and half a billion people,” AP noted.
Earlier this month, as required by a court ruling, the British parliament confirmed the results of the June 23 referendum, which greenlighted the invocation of Article 50, in response to which the 60-year-old EU must initially reply within 48 hours.
At the end of the negotiations, each EU member nation has veto power over any deal, but “If Britain fails to secure a deal with the EU within two years, Britain will still leave the EU, but the precise terms of its exit deal might be decided by the courts,” USA Today explained.
May, who was considered a supporter of the Remain side during the Brexit campaign but who vowed to respect the will of the people upon taking office as PM, wrote in part that Brexit was not meant to harm the EU as an institution. “Instead, the referendum was a vote to restore, as we see it, our national self-determination.”
According to CNBC, the key issues for the negotiations include “the exit bill the U.K. is required to pay to the EU for the price of leaving, rights for EU citizens to remain within the U.K. following Brexit and vice-versa, the future freedom of movement for, above all, people and goods…”
Relentless pressure from Nigel Farage and the UK Independence Party (UKIP or Ukip) — along with Euroskeptics in then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s own Conservative Party — is credited with compelling Cameron to authorize the Brexit vote in the first place. In the run-up to the referendum, Cameron and many, but not all of his cabinet members campaigned for the Remain side. He resigned from the government soon after the Brexit win and was succeeded by Theresa May.
A member of the European parliament, Farage stepped down as Ukip leader after Brexit, but he maintains a high profile on British and American television.
Given the success of the grassroots Brexit cohort despite the London-centric media and pollster predictions, there is now a movement for Brexit-style referendums in other European countries. This includes France, Italy, the Netherlands (despite the fact that Geert Wilders’ party fell short in the recent election), Denmark, and elsewhere on the continent, as populist/nationalist parties — not all of which fit neatly into the news media’s right or left pigeonhole — gain further traction.
At the same time, Scotland’s parliament yesterday voted to seek a second referendum to leave the U.K., but ironically stay under the EU umbrella. It’s unclear if a second referendum will go forward, and Scotland voted to stay within the United Kingdom in 2014.
In line with his populist platform, President Trump is and was a strong supporter of Brexit.
[Featured Image by Emmanuel Dunand/ AP Images]